Stretch It Out to Ease Joint Pain

Stretch It Out to Ease Joint Pain

Aches and pains happen. You sit too much and your back hurts. You get up and down a lot and your knees hurt. Or your neck or hips ache regularly.

These aches and pains in your joints or back are common. A joint is the connection between two bones. It lets you move. But it can also be a pain point. There are things that can help you take care of your back and joints to help prevent pain:

  • Watch your weight and eat healthy foods.
  • Keep stretching and exercising, and always wear protective gear as needed.
  • Build your muscles for better joint support.
  • Don’t do too much.
  • Perfect your posture.

Back and joint pain can stem from many different causes. Some pain might come from simply not moving enough, or from moving in the wrong way. Other pain comes from arthritis, injuries and other conditions that can cause serious joint damage at any age. If the damage is bad enough, the pain can interfere with your daily activities.

Stretch It Out

Wherever your pain is coming from, there is one thing that helps most people: Stretching. Simple stretches done correctly can help ease joint pain and stiffness, while boosting flexibility and balance. That can help you move better. It can also ease muscle tension and improve your posture.

“Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains and muscle damage,” says Harvard Health. leaving site icon

Stretching is also helpful, especially for people with arthritis, because it lubricates your joints. And it helps you maintain the full movement of your joints.

Stretching also helps your body before and after exercise. Because it increases your flexibility and improves your ability to move easily, it can help reduce the risk of injury.

Tips for Stretching

How often should you stretch? A few stretches every day is best. Aim for at least three stretches four times a week.

Not sure where to start? Harvard Health says you don’t need to stretch every muscle every time to benefit. Some areas provide more benefit than others for easing pain. Stretching your lower body — calves, thighs, hip flexors and lower back — can help your whole body. Shoulder and neck stretches are also good ways to ease tension, pain and stiffness. And of course, carefully stretch any other areas where you have pain or stiffness.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons leaving site icon offers these tips for stretching:

  • Don’t forget to warm up your muscles before you stretch. Stretching cold can hurt your muscles. Start very slowly or try a few minutes of light aerobic exercise to get warmed up.
  • Always start slowly and move gently. Then relax and hold your stretch — 10 to 30 seconds is good.
  • Do not bounce. That can cause injuries.
  • Remember, stretching should not hurt. If you feel pain, stop and relax.
Talk to Your Doctor Before You Start

If you have long-lasting pain or have had an injury, you might need to change the way you stretch or avoid stretching that area for a while. For example, if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause further harm.

Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to stretch. And your doctor can help you decide which activities are safe for you.

And if you have back or joint pain that lingers, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor. Your doctor may suggest ways to safely ease the symptoms yourself at home. Or your doctor may recommend treatment like physical therapy.

Sources: The importance of stretching, leaving site icon Harvard Health Letter, 2022; Get in the Habit of Stretching, leaving site icon Arthritis Foundation; Warm Up, Cool Down and Be Flexible, leaving site icon American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2019; Caring for Your Joints, leaving site icon WebMD, 2022

Originally published 9/4/2020; Revised 2023